Ghee is one of those food trends that's been popping up on my radar lately. Yes, it finds its way onto every Paleo and Whole30 shopping list (and I've dabbled in both), but now ghee is more than just a butter replacement when butter is off-limits. It's a staple in my pantry.
I add it to bulletproof coffee, fry my eggs in ghee, slather it on my sweet potatoes (highly recommend), and even apply it to the ends of my hair after a long day in the sun. But even though the taste won me over, I still didn’t really know anything about it—aside from the fact that it’s a supposedly high-quality butter substitute.
It was time to get butter acquainted (see what I did there?).
What Is Ghee?
I can’t believe it’s not butter! Just kidding, it is butter—clarified butter to be exact. Come again? For those who haven’t heard of the schmancy-sounding spread, let me explain. Ghee (or clarified butter) is butter that has been cooked to remove milk solids and water.
Think pure butterfat (#nomnomnom)—or rather, milk fat. And because the milk has been removed, this sturdy stuff doesn’t require refrigeration and stays fresh for months. (Fun fact: Ghee was actually created in an attempt to keep butter from melting during scorching summers.)
Though it’s been used in India and other Asian countries for thousands of years—as holistic medicine and even for beauty—ghee didn’t take off in the U.S. until somewhat recently. Because it’s so high in fat—it’s all fat—it wasn’t particularly popular when low-fat diets were all the rage.
But when butter got a makeover—or rather, when its reputation did—and it was no longer seen as an enemy of the plate, people started to warm up to it. In particular, when grass-fed butter hit the scene and started invading our cups of coffee.
Now, ghee is available at most health food stores in jars large and small, but people are also making it at home. Whipping up your own ghee simply requires boiling grass-fed butter. The butter will go through various stages as it melts—from bubbly to foamy to slightly clumpy—and then it’s cooled, strained, and left until it becomes firm. Simple as that, delicious as can be.
Why Do People Use It?
One of the main reasons people turn to ghee—at least in America—is because it’s believed to be the purest (and most superior) form of butter. And because milk solids are removed, ghee is also said to be better for those with dairy sensitivities (note: It's not vegan).
But as with many wellness trends, the list of supposed benefits is longer than Rapunzel’s golden locks. Ghee eaters believe that it may help with improving digestion, supporting weight loss, increasing immunity and sex drive, stimulating hair growth, improving memory, treating hangovers, calming fevers, having anti-inflammatory and detoxing properties, helping heal wounds and strengthen bones, and even fighting cancer.
But let’s not forget that ghee is fat, and with fat often comes rigorous debate. Though many have changed their tune when it comes to fat, high-fat diets and their impact on health can still be polarizing. From increased risk of gastrointestinal diseases to increased risk for development of dementia to reduced testosterone to butter-induced comas—just kidding on the last one, but sometimes it is hard to stop eating—the supposed side effects are nearly as long.
Oof. Why is it never simple?
Ghee Benefits, According to Science
Fortunately for ghee, the amount of science backing up ghee’s health claims has me pretty buttered up. Here’s what the pros have to say:
- Fat-tastic: Because of the high concentration of conjugated linoleic acid (a fatty acid), ghee may help increase fat loss. These fatty acids may also help prevent cancer and reduce inflammation. Take note that these claims haven't been proven in humans yet (only rats).
- The gang’s all here: It’s high in vitamins K, A, and E, which support everything from strong bones to healthy skin to increased immunity to disease prevention to infinity and beyond (pretty much).
- Tasty, tasty (as said by Fergalicious): Also high in butyrate, a short-chain fatty acid, ghee may improve digestion, fight inflammation, treat constipation, and alleviate symptoms of some intestinal diseases.
- Breast friends: In one study, rats that were fed ghee had lower levels of breast cancer markers than those that were fed soybean oil.
- Rub it in, rub it in: Mixed with honey, it can help treat infected wounds.
As it turns out, it’s pretty darn healthy to cook with too. Because it has a higher smoke point than olive and coconut oil (and even regular butter), ghee is great for cooking foods at a high heat. And it is, in fact, better for those sensitive to lactose.
If you’re a fan of butter, fat, and flavor, then you'll agree ghee is pretty awesome. But as with many high-fat foods, it’s important to eat in moderation, and I highly recommend easing into it before unleashing the fatty floodgates.
High-fat diets aren’t right for everyone, and daily ghee may not be right for you. Start with a teaspoon in your coffee, put a pat in your pan before scrambling eggs, or eat a little spoonful to help the medicine go down.
It’s also important to check yourself—or rather, to check the ingredients if you’re opting for store-bought. Ghee can sometimes be made from vegetable oil—as opposed to grass-fed butter—which often contains high amounts of trans fats (the ones that aren’t so healthy). When it comes to ghee, you want to get to the good stuff. And if you aren’t sure, make it yourself. (It’s honestly pretty fun.)
Now gheedy up and get yourself some.